Young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds lead the way in their own sexual health education

Young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds lead the way in their own sexual health education

19 May 2015
Young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds lead the way in their own sexual health education

Hip hop, spoken word and dance are being used to deliver effective sexual health messages to young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds.

This article is part of a series of resources being released during our Focus on... Working with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) adolescents.

It’s not always easy to get young people engaged in messages around sexual health.

But when given the opportunity to be a part of a creative and unique educative process, young people can enthusiastically take responsibility for their own (and their peers’) sexual health education.

This has been the experience of H3 Express, an initiative of the Multicultural Health and Support Service (MHSS) that uses the popularity of hip hop, song, spoken word and dance among newly arrived young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds to make sexual health messages engaging.

Almost 50% of newly settled refugees in Australia are under 20 years of age (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2009) and have had limited sexual health education prior to arrival. Young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds are often more vulnerable than their Australian-born counterparts because of their lack of knowledge, misinformation and stigma surrounding sexual health.

MHSS looks for meaningful ways to engage with these young people and educate them about sexual health. The MHSS approach uses a peer participatory model where young people deliver messages to other young people and are encouraged to lead the process. They become the decision-makers and have input into every aspect of the program.

MHSS team members deliver sexual health education sessions in a space that is comfortable and familiar to the participants - like a community centre or library. These sessions use teaching methods that do not rely on literary skills and adopt health literacy techniques. For example, educators will use picture cards to drive discussions and challenge misconceptions about HIV transmission.

Participants are then asked to produce a form of artistic expression that incorporates what they have learned. They can do this through dance, song, hip hop or spoken word - with hip hop proving to be a particularly effective medium for this purpose. In 2013 and 2014 a performance was held at Federation Square and a CD was produced to promote these messages to other young people.

When working with young people from diverse backgrounds, relationships are essential, and families have to be on board. MHSS works closely with youth workers to gain access to the existing lines of communication between agencies and families. Youth workers help explain to the family what participation in the program involves and emphasise the benefits.

Parents are reassured that having their child, especially their daughters, participate in a sexual health education program will not encourage risky-behaviour but add to the protective factors that reduce the risk of BBV/STI transmission.

H3 Express has an in-built ongoing evaluation that begins from the initial planning stages. Last year, the evaluation was conducted through interviews with participants and audience members which measured impact. A process evaluation was also conducted following each sexual education session which identified learning outcomes and areas of improvement in the delivery of the information.  

The evaluation indicates that the young people take on board the sexual health messages, exhibited in the understanding expressed in their own words. They also indicate that messages don’t stop circulating once the performance is over - recordings are shared throughout their peer networks. 

But this method is not one size fits all, and MHSS is looking at ways to further engage newly-arrived young people. In 2015 MHSS is running a similar program working with young people in the juvenile justice system.

The Multicultural Health and Support Service is a part of the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity & Health.

References and further reading

Multicultural health and support service website

Hip hop and health

MHSS Strategic Plan 2013 – 2017

Bungay, H. & Vella-Burrows, T. (2013). The effects of participating in creative activities on the health and well-being of children and young people: a rapid review of the literature. Perspectives in Public Health 133(1).

Cheong-Clinch, C. (2009). Music for engaging young people in education. Youth Studies Australia, 28(9).

Department of Immigration and Citizenship. (2009). Settlement Database. Retrieved from:, August 2009.

Low, K. (2010). Creating a space for the individual: Different theatre and performance-based approaches to sexual health communication in South Africa.  Journal of Applied Arts and Health, 1(1).


The feature image was supplied by the author.

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Frances Nolan

Frances Nolan is Communications Officer at the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health.

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